Unintended Consequences

DISCLAIMER: White Collar belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA Network.

A/N: This story occurs just before Point Blank (because I can't live/write without Mozzie!)

Chapter 2

The previous evening. Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Neal was sitting in a booth at his favorite wine bar slowly sipping a glass of wine to celebrate closing another case. He had invited Peter to join him but, as usual, Peter was anxious to get home to Elle. Neal's rambling thoughts of jealousy regarding Peter and Elle's close relationship were cut short when a man slid in on the other side of the booth.
"Neal Caffrey. It's been a while since I've seen you. How's life?"

Neal chuckled, instantly recognizing the man across from him. He was puzzled though as to why he would reappear after several years.
"Life sometimes throws you curveballs, Frank. What brings you here?"
Frank hesitated for a few seconds as if trying to get up the nerve to voice his request.
"I…I need your help."
Neal raised his eyebrows unsure if he should believe him.
"How did you find me?"
"Alex said I should be able to find you here."
"I'll have to remember not to thank her."

"As if I'm pleased to be here either."

"What could you possibly want from me? I'm fairly certain you wanted nothing to do with me a few years ago."
"It's about Grace."
"How is she? She didn't dump you did she?"
"No, she's been...she's been kidnapped."
"I'm sorry Frank. Grace is a special lady. How do you think I can help?"
Frank looked unsure of himself and started to stutter rather badly. "Mm...masked mm...men broke into the house and took her. Tt...they said tt...they wanted the pp...painting...but I don't...I don't have it...and tt...they're going to kk...kill her."

Neal thought it was odd because he hadn't remembered Frank ever having a problem with stuttering before. He did have to mentally concede that if Grace had been kidnapped it could very well have pushed Frank over the edge and this is how he was coping; he did look extremely distressed. Neal didn't blame him; he had felt the same way about Kate when he was searching for her.
"It's ok, Frank. I have some friends in the FBI. We'll find her."
"NO!"
Neal visibly jumped at Frank's outburst.
"I'm…I'm sorry, no...If there's any cops…cops or FBI involved they'll kill her. They…they said they would."
"What painting do they want? You said you don't have it. Are you asking me to steal it?"
"No, you…you can't steal it."

Frank paused and Neal got an irritated look on his face.

"Insulting me isn't going to help. Of course I can steal it. Isn't that why you tracked me down through Alex?"

Frank had a confused look on his face, but then realized what Neal meant.

"No, I meant you…you can't steal it because I already did."
"What am I missing here Frank? You need to tell me what you want! If you already have the painting then why do you need my help?"
"Because I...I dd... did have it but now it's...it's gone! I...I had it in a storage unit, but one unit caught fire...I...I dd...don't know why, bb...but it spread and the pp...painting was destroyed...and they're going...going to kk...kill Grace!"
Neal took a moment to process this information.
"It's ok. We'll figure something out."
"I can't lose her Neal! What if you lost Kate? I know she ...she liked Grace as well; maybe...maybe she can help."
Neal's expression turned deadly serious and his eyes narrowed, shooting arrows at Frank for bringing up a painful subject.

"Kate's dead, Frank. She was killed in an explosion."
"I'm sorry."

If Neal had looked up at that very moment he might have noticed that sorrow was not the prevalent expression on Frank's face, but he was too busy trying to calm his own nerves to notice.
"It's ok. It's not your fault. I couldn't save Kate, but maybe I can help you save Grace."
"You won't regret it."
"I hope not. What painting did you steal that I need to recreate?"
"It was by Johannes Vermeer. It's called "The Concert."
"You stole that?"
"I thought you might be familiar with it."
"I have to admit, that theft was pretty ingenious. Dressing up like cops and talking your way into the Gardner museum; definitely my style. I was exceptionally jealous when I heard about that. Paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Degas...that must have been an unbelievable payday."
"Yeah well, I was lucky to get away with the Vermeer. There were a lot of people involved. It was a big operation, but it was set up so that no one knew all of the parts of the operation. Everyone had their specific part; mine was to be one of the cops. I don't know everyone involved and I'm trying to figure out who might have Grace."
"Someone might be getting skittish. I heard the FBI is stepping up its search for the missing paintings. They've posted a couple billboards with a five million dollar reward for information; that's a lot of money to consider. Maybe your former compadres think you would give information about them but not reveal your part in it. They knew taking Grace would be far more important to you than 5 million and keeping your secret safe."

"You're as smart as I remember. You analyze every angle, I like that. So what do we do? How do we know that they'll give Grace back even if I give them the painting?"

"You don't. That's what happened to Kate. I did what they wanted and Kate still died."
"Then we don't make the same mistake twice, Neal. We have to get her back!"
"Why don't we go back to my place and come up with a plan of action. Give me just a minute and we can go."
Neal pulled out his cell phone and dialed. The phone rang several times before it was picked up.

"Sorry, I was practicing my tai chi. What's up?"
"Kidnapping. Old friend. I need your help."
"Is the Suit there?"
"No, Peter cannot know about this. Will you help?"

"What have you gotten yourself into this time?"

"I need a canvas from the storage locker; preferably something to pass for late 17th century. It needs to be approximately 2 ½ feet by 2 ½ feet. I'll find the exact dimensions later."

"I'll see what I can find."
"Thanks. Meet me at my place as soon as possible."

Neal hung up the phone to find Frank staring at him angrily.

"Who were you calling? I said no cops."

"I wasn't calling the cops. He's a friend. He'll meet us at my place shortly. Let's go. We have a lot of work to do."

##

Neal was standing by the French doors in his apartment at June's looking out on to the roof contemplating what he was about to do. It was apparent that Frank was doing the same thing while he was pacing back and forth by the couch.

"What if this doesn't work? What if your forgery isn't believable?"

Neal turned around, already regretting his decision to help Frank. If Frank didn't have confidence in his work, why did he even bother tracking him down? Neal reminded himself that this was why he preferred to work alone; no one to look over your shoulder and tell you your work wasn't good enough.

"Calm down Frank, this is why you asked for my help, right? So, the first step is to recreate the painting. While I'm working, I need you to remember everything you can about any members of the group. Is there anything special you can remember; maybe any hiding places where Grace might be? If we have a good idea where she is, you can take the painting to the drop and I can case the area. By finding her sooner rather than later, we have a better chance of getting her out alive. Call me with the location if it's different than what we expect and hopefully one of us can reach her quickly."

"Thanks man. I really appreciate this."

"You'd better, Frank. I swear this is the last favor I am ever doing for you. If Grace wasn't involved, you'd be out of luck."

Frank was pretty sure Neal had no idea just how much he appreciated this, but by the time Neal realized what was going on, it would be too late.